I just celebrated my 14th wedding anniversary. Fourteen isn’t anything special necessarily. But my 14th wedding anniversary was noteworthy to me for one reason in particular: I out-married my parents. Yes, my parents got divorced after 13 years of marriage. Their divorce and my marriage may seem, on its face, to be unrelated. But it had a huge impact on my life and how I thought about marriage as a child growing up. Mainly it gave me resolve to not make the same mistake that my parents made in calling it quits instead of working things out. (Note: I realize that some marriages cannot be salvaged. Without going into details that aren’t mine to share, my parents both agree that their marriage might well have been.)
It also got me thinking about my teenage daughter and the person she will marry one day. There’s always the possibility that she won’t get married, but I am choosing to be hopeful that she will get married. It is with this optimism that I decided to write my future son-in-law a letter about Margaret, his future wife.
Dear future SIL,
You don’t know me yet. I’m your future mother-in-law. Premature as it might be, I’m writing to you because I want to share a few things about my daughter with you. Namely, some of the qualities, attitudes, and values you’ll want to possess if your goal is to stay married to her. This is unsolicited advice, I know. But really, it’s for your benefit. And for hers. Because marriage isn’t easy. But if you approach it the right way, it is incredibly rewarding.
By the way, these are in no order of importance by design.
- Humor – Margaret loves to laugh and be entertained be it a well-told joke, anecdote, or a pithy comeback. Blame her dad for that. You don’t have to like to perform per se. You just need to make her laugh. Or at a minimum, laugh with her. Chances are, she’ll make you laugh. Because she’s really funny.
- Thoughtfulness – Margaret’s love language is ‘acts of kindness.’ So sneak love notes into her lunch. Take her out to the theater to see a show she really wants to see but hasn’t had time to get tickets for. Do the laundry and clean the house when she’s away on a business trip so she comes home to cleanliness – because believe me, even though she’s a slob now, she’ll see that as Godliness by the time you’re together.
- Strength – Be strong. Let me say that again. Be strong. Because she won’t respect you unless you’re just as strong as she is (and she’s very strong). Please don’t mistake strength for force. Don’t ever try to force her into anything. The strength I’m referring to here means you won’t back down to her when you know you shouldn’t just to avoid confrontation. It means you’ll stand up for who you are and what you value no matter how stubborn or relentless she’s being. It also means you’ll stand up for her. Not because she needs a man to protect her, but rather because she needs to know that you’ll move mountains for her if it came down to it.
- Faith – As a Catholic mother-in-law who is a convert from Judaism and has Muslim extended family, I am a strong believer in faith in whatever form it manifests. While I hope you are a faithful Catholic Christian so that you two can live out your faith together as a family, more importantly, I pray that you have faith in God. Because this is a big part of what will carry you successfully through the “for better or for worse” part of your vows.
- Humility – Margaret is easily turned off by pride. Make no mistake though; she loves to be impressed. But she doesn’t like it when people think too much of themselves. And do NOT try to fake it. She can easily spot a false show of humility which to her is far worse because it means you’re being dishonest. Which brings me to the next quality…
- Honesty – This is an area Margaret struggles with herself as a teenager. She’s getting better about being honest with herself and with her family, but this takes time. By the time she meets you, we will have disabused her of the slightest temptation to be even slightly dishonest. It follows that she will be particularly keen on finding a mate who shares her zero-tolerance policy for deceit. Oh, and by the way…she will be a brown or black belt in Krav Maga by the time you have the opportunity to lie to her and when she catches you, God help you is all I can say.
- Introspection – Margaret is the offspring of two people who are far from perfect, but who are both completely committed to self-improvement. That buzzword is overused, I know. The point is that she has grown up in a household in which those who love her most have shown her the importance and value in looking into oneself, being open to receiving honest feedback from others, and striving to be better people. As such, there’s a high chance that she will do the same and expect her life partner to as well.
- Commitment –The vows you make on your wedding day will be uttered joyfully and you will say them with sincerity I have no doubt. But until you are faced with a situation that challenges the core of who you are, that tempts you to choose flight rather than fight, or that threatens to break down the bond upon which your very marriage was built, you will not have truly known what being committed to your spouse is.
- Forgiveness – This is central to Margaret’s faith. Margaret will make you so mad you’ll think you’ll want to do things to her sometimes that you’ll regret having even conjured. But she will apologize. And she’ll mean it. And you will have to show her forgiveness. I’m not saying that everything is forgettable – it’s not. But everything is forgivable. (I’m still working on that one but it’s a good goal to strive for, right?)
If Margaret is anything like she was at age 13, you’re going to have to be one heck of a guy. But then again, if you’re reading this, that means she chose you – and therefore you already are.
Your future mother-in-law